Bridging the educational divide

UCD, Zurich Ireland and Z Zurich Foundation join forces to narrow the socio-economic gap on education outcomes for young people.

University College Dublin (UCD), in partnership with Zurich Ireland (Zurich) and the Z Zurich Foundation (ZZF) is launching a three-year intervention programme entitled Power 2 Progress aimed at fostering educational resilience in Ireland. The programme will support senior cycle students to achieve greater success by providing expertise and resources to a number of DEIS schools.

Despite significant growth in the Irish economy in recent years, there remains areas of considerable inequality in Irish society as evidenced at second level education where in 2019 32% of those with the highest grades in Higher Education Institutions nationally were from the wealthiest families, compared with 3% from the most disadvantaged (Higher Education Authority, 2019).

Designed by UCD, the Power 2 Progress programme will provide practical interventions to approximately 600 students across 15 schools through weekly tuition by UCD student teachers, aimed at supporting students to reach their full academic potential. It will also provide community activities and specialised open access visits to UCD and Zurich to highlight the transformative potential of higher education and to demystify higher education and the corporate work environment for DEIS students.

DEIS schools are those located in communities where the socio-economic background is below the national average. DEIS post-primary schools make up just over 27% of all post-primary schools in Ireland and account for just under 76,000 post-primary students. DEIS schools typically have lower levels of literacy, poorer attendance rates, early school leaving (especially among males) and often low expectations. These inequalities persist into adulthood, impacting health and career options, and are usually inter-generational.

The programme, which will be supported with over €300,000 in funding from the Z Zurich Foundation, will also fund a four-year PhD student to research the impact of the three-year intervention programme and to inform future policy around addressing socio-economic disadvantage in the Irish educational system.

The programme will be run by Judith Harford, Professor of Education, Deputy Head of the School of Education and Vice Principal for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in the College of Social Sciences and Law, UCD. To find out more about this programme visit the Power 2 Progress webpage.

Welcoming the announcement, Minister for Education Norma Foley said: “As a Government we are committed to supporting DEIS schools and tackle educational disadvantage at school level. Every student must be given the opportunity to pursue their ambitions, and I am sure that this project will make a huge difference to students’ lives. I would like to thank UCD, Zurich and the Z Zurich Foundation for putting the resources in place to put this programme together and I look forward to monitoring its progress over the coming period.”

Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris TD, said: “This is a strong example of business and industry linking in with our higher education institutions and DEIS schools to support students, as well as raise their aspirations about going to college in the future. This type of collaboration is needed now more than ever given uncertainties and challenges faced by COVID-19. Equity of access to higher education remains a national priority. Building aspirations for and supporting transitions to higher education among students and their families from communities experiencing social and economic disadvantage is vitally important. We must continue to collaborate to ensure groups underrepresented in higher education are supported. This requires the kind of innovative and partnership approaches, that is central to this particular initiative.”

UCD President, Professor Andrew J. Deeks said: “University College Dublin is proud to partner with Zurich on such an important national initiative. Embedding the principles of equality, diversity and inclusion across our University is one of our core strategic objectives and this national initiative will further support this endeavour. The funding provided by the Z Zurich Foundation will ensure the expertise of Professor Judith Harford and her academic colleagues in the UCD School of Education will be best applied to support more students from currently underrepresented DEIS schools throughout Ireland to attend higher education and derive real benefit from the education and experiences we provide. By partnering with industry and government on national initiatives of this calibre and focus, universities can make a real difference to the quality of people’s lives.”

Anthony Brennan, CEO of Zurich Ireland said: “Zurich is committed to creating a brighter future for the communities in which we work and live. With educational inequality prevalent in many areas across the country, I’m delighted that Zurich in Ireland is collaborating with UCD and the Z Zurich Foundation to launch Power 2 Progress - a programme to empower DEIS students to reach their full potential. Zurich is also committed to sustainability so I’m particularly pleased this programme will have a positive impact through its PhD research to help influence future education policy in Ireland, ensuring an informed, lasting and sustained benefit for future generations.”

About: Power 2 Progress

Zurich's collaboration with UCD through the Power 2 Progress initiative follows Z Zurich Foundation’s recent contribution of €500,000 to Rethink Ireland's Innovate Together Fund which supports social innovation in response to COVID-19. Zurich and the Z Zurich Foundation also collaborate with Rugby Players Ireland through the Tackle Your Feelings mental wellbeing campaign, which breaks down stigma and encourages people to become more proactive about looking after their mental well-being on a daily basis.